Google: ‘Let’s All Power Down for the Planet’

Google has this to say about energy: we waste to too much of it. The search giant continues to push beyond its bread and butter search and Web applications businesses to promote energy conservation to both consumers and business.

Earlier this week, the company gave the first public demo of its power metering application designed to help consumers track energy use. Today, in a blog post, Google encouraged users to get involved in a Power Down for the Planet video contest sponsored by the Climate Savers Computing Initiative (CSCI) a group co-founded by Google (NASDAQ: GOOG).

“The grid is kind of dumb,” said Tom Sly, who heads Google’s Power Meter, during a panel at DEMO this week. “Thomas Edison died in 1931, but if he was here today, he wouldn’t have much problem understanding how it works because it hasn’t changed much.”

But Sly says the energy grid we rely on for electricity is about to get a lot smarter in terms of what information it provides. Google plans to work with utilities and device manufacturers to refine and distribute its PowerMeter Web service, which will let consumers see how much energy they’re using. The PowerMeter effort is part of Google’s philanthropic group.

A prototype of PowerMeter is currently being tested by Google and its partners. Sly noted there are other power metering interface programs and said he welcomes any other efforts designed to address the energy savings issue. But he also said Google has the resources to make PowerMeter broadly available and plans to do so.

“There’s a lot of research to suggest that when consumers have access to this information, they change their behavior, cutting back as much as ten to 15 percent on their energy use,” said Sly.

In Google’s view, energy conservation is more a problem of awareness than technology. The video contest is part of a push to promote greater awareness in computing. Videos will be judged on their ability to “educate, entertain, and inform others about the importance of energy efficient computing.” Prizes include cash awards up to $5,000 and energy-efficient notebook computers.

If half the homes in the U.S. reduced their energy use by ten percent, Sly said the savings would be the equivalent of taking eight million cars off the road. “The savings would be larger than what we get today from solar and wind,” he said. “This is a really big deal.”

Power to the people

Sly said Google is open to working with other companies looking to track and conserve energy use. That would include Tendril, which offers its own Tendril Residential Energy Ecosystem (TREE) designed to help consumers track their energy consumption patterns and change them. At DEMO, Tendril announced plans to extend to mobile platforms including the iPhone.

The company also is opening its APIs to third-party developers who can use it to develop new ways to measure and manage home energy use. Tendril CEO Adrian Tuck gave the first public demo of the service on the iPhone, which gives a dashboard view of energy costs in a home for the current day (even for just the past hour), as well as for the day before.

“We believe the way to build sustained change is to give consumers the ability to change their energy use rather than Big Brother,” said Tuck.

Another company, Amee, “The world’s energy meter,” showed how its service measures how much energy is used and the amount of carbon to produce it.

“This revolution will be powered by data,” said Robin Baker, vice president of business development at Amee. “Governments, individuals and organizations will be able to look at how they consume energy from a carbon perspective.”

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